David P. Hurford, Ph.D.
Dr. Chris Christman
Dr. Sean Lauderdale
Dr. Rick Lindskog
Dr. Jan Smith
Shanise Butts, B.S.
Jordan Boux, B.S.
The Secret Codes! is a reading acquisition curriculum developed for kindergarten students. Its purpose is to provide kindergarten students with a system that allows them to understand the mechanics of learning to read.
Able Ant was selected to be the character for the Secret Codes curriculum for two reasons. The first was that ants are capable to carrying very heavy loads and performing a vast amount of work that would not be predicted based on their sizes. If given the right set of experiences, young children can do the same with learning to read. The first letter-sound correspondences that students learn with the Secret Codes curriculum are "a," "n" and "t," which obviously are used to spell the word "ant!"
Learning to read is one of the most important and complex behaviors in which we engage. In our culture, an individual’s social and economic success is dependent upon his or her ability to successfully learn to read. There are very few careers or jobs that do not require reading. As a result, all students need to develop adequate reading skills.
Too many children are experiencing difficulties learning to read. Approximately 15 to 20% of our nation’s children have reading difficulties/dyslexia. Unfortunately, this percentage is increasing. The future of individuals with reading difficulties is fairly bleak in our service-oriented society, which requires each of its members to read well. Reading difficulties are not just an academic problem; they are a social problem as well.
Reading is not a natural process. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to learn to read. Exposing young students to text does not result in spontaneous reading. The students must learn the relationship between the letters and their respective sounds, to use the knowledge of this relationship to decode words into their respective sounds, synthesize the individual sounds into words, and then recognize that this word is in their vocabulary. Lastly, and most importantly, the students must be able to comprehend the written material, as comprehension is the goal of the reading process.
Learning to read is a difficult act that can be delayed if students do not have the prerequisite skills. Currently, other curricula designed to teach kindergartners to read are not reaching the children who are at risk for reading failure; otherwise, there would not be nearly 30% of children who struggle learning to read.
Writing systems were created to permanently record thoughts and ideas. Unfortunately, the English writing system makes it very difficult to learn to read.
Transparent Writing Systems. In transparent writing systems, each sound of the language is represented by one and only one symbol. Each symbol represents one and only one sound. Examples of transparent writing systems include Greek, German, Finnish, Serbian, and Turkish. Generally, students who are learning to read in languages with transparent writing systems begin formal reading training later and end sooner than students who are learning to read in opaque writing systems. It is easier to learn to read when the writing system is transparent.
Opaque Writing Systems. The English writing system is an opaque writing system, which means that there is no one-on-one system for representing sounds. There are over 40 sounds in the English language and there are only 26 letters of the alphabet. As a result, some letters are used to represent more than one sound. In addition, some sounds are represented by several spelling combinations. The English writing system is one of the most opaque writing systems; it is influenced by many languages (Anglo-Saxon, French, Latin, Greek, and Danish), all of which were able to retain their unique writing systems.
J. R. Firth, in 1937, stated, “English spelling is so preposterously unsystematic that some sort of reform is undoubtedly necessary in the interest of the whole world.” Mastering the English writing system involves great time and effort because of the borrowing and using of other writing systems, which have unique spelling protocols.
In English, a letter may represent more than one sound. For example, the letter “c” represents the /k/ and /s/ sounds, the letter “g” represents the /g/ and /j/ sounds, the letter “y” represents the /e/ and /i/ sounds, and all of the vowels represent several sounds. Learning to decode these symbols into their respective sounds is challenging. The system gets even more complex when there are alternative ways to represent particular sounds in their written forms (e.g., the /k/ sound is made by the /k/, /c/, and /ck/) and the use of letters that already represent other sounds (e.g., the digraph /oi/, which contains the /o/ and /i/ that already represent four other sounds in total to represent the /oi/ sound). To complicate the system even more, there are different spellings of words based on the context (e.g., “to,” “too,” and “two”). As a result, students of the English writing system begin the process of learning to read earlier than their transparent writing system peers, and they take longer to learn to read.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was created, in part, to combat the large number of students who are experiencing reading failure. The best approach to assisting these students is to provide them with training and instruction that will help prevent them from having reading difficulties. As Ben Franklin stated, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Once a student is identified as experiencing reading failure, he or she is considerably behind in reading and it is very difficult to catch up.
The Secret Codes curriculum was written specifically to address these concerns and to increase the probability that the students will not experience reading failure.
The Secret Codes curriculum addresses the difficulties and confusions that result from an opaque writing system. The curriculum was developed to initially present the student with an English writing system that is modified to mimic a transparent writing system. The goals of this curriculum are:
The Secret Codes curriculum is organized into 127 activities. Each activity is intended to be completed during one school day. Individual activities present information regarding a single feature of the curriculum. During the curriculum, the students progress from learning about codes to reading and writing their own paragraph. The reading vocabulary contains over 550 words and over 80 sentences that the students read multiple times. The Secret Codes curriculum provides students with the tools necessary to be great readers. Students who complete the Secret Codes curriculum will have an understanding that reading is a process of using their “secret code” to analyze (decode) the written word into sounds and then synthesize (blend) those sounds into a word that they recognize. Because the students continue to develop their reading skills, it is important that their analysis (decoding) and synthesis (blending) skills are well developed; these are the skills that all readers use to read unfamiliar words.
The Secret Codes curriculum activities are comprised of whole-group instruction, small group instruction, and homework. In Activity 1, the students are taught that the written form of the language is simply a “secret code” and that their task is to learn how to “crack the secret code.” The next three activities involve presenting the students with a phoneme and the letter that represents that phoneme. Activity 2 involves presenting “a” followed by the consonants “n” and “t” for Activities 3 and 4, respectively. Activity 5 uses the newly acquired skills to decode the letters “a,” “n,” and “t” into sounds (i.e., /a/, /n/, and /t/) and then synthesize those sounds into the word “ant.” The most important part of the early activities is that the students become aware of the utility of the secret code and understand that the result of using the secret code is reading.
Scientific evaluation indicated that students who participated in the Secret Codes group statistically outperformed the students who participated in the comparison/control group.
Kindergarten teachers who used the Secret Codes curriculum reported that the students were considerably more advanced at the end of their kindergarten year than previous years. First-grade teachers indicated that the students who had the Secret Codes curriculum in kindergarten were able to do things at the beginning of the school year that they were not usually able to do until mid year.
Sapience Corporation is marketing and selling the Secret Codes Curriculum. For specific information regarding the curriculum please use this link Secret Codes. This link provides information regading the curriculum, its development and results from schools that are using the curriculum.
If you have questions regarding the Secret Codes curriculum, please send a message David P. Hurford or call (620-235-4534).
The research that is generated by the Center for READing is concerned with three areas:
This section provides information regarding the technical information associated with the identification techniques and the training paradigm used by the Center for READing.